Friday, May 31, 2013

"The Most Successful Christian Communities Embrace the State of Israel"

Eternity Envy

by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post
May 31, 2013

In response to the Church of Scotland's "An Inheritance of Abraham?," a veritable potpourri of reasons for rejecting the Jewish claim of a historical connection to the Land of Israel, the ever brilliant David Goldman offers one of his startling aperçus: "The most successful Christian communities embrace the State of Israel, while the least successful abhor it."

The Church of Scotland certainly falls into the latter category. Since 1956, the Church of Scotland has shed two-thirds of its members, and continues to lose them at a rate of 5% a year. (Ironically, in happier times for the Church of Scotland, it was a hotbed of Christian Zionism. A nineteenth century Church of Scotland cleric coined the phrase, "A land without people for a people without a land.")

The same observation applies to the Church of England, another fast fading religious establishment. Less that 40% of Britons say they believe in G-d, and more British Muslims than British Christians attend weekly religious services. Like the Church of Scotland, the Church of England has increasingly descended into mindless political correctness. Israel has often borne the brunt of that political correctness in the form of resolutions for disinvestment.

The religious energy in America has shifted dramatically from the old mainstream churches – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – towards evangelicals. Here too, Goldman's observation holds up. Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have passed disinvestment resolutions in recent years (though the Presbyterians' was subsequently rescinded.) Meanwhile the evangelicals have proven to be the most stalwart supporters of Israel, often citing the Biblical verse, "And I will bless those that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Bereishis 12:3).

GOLDMAN CONNECTS HIS OBSERVATION about failing religions to another: anti-Semitism is correlated to declining national groups. Europe's most prominent anti-Semitic party at present is Hungary's Jobbik Party, the third largest in the country. And Hungary's fertility rate today is a paltry .83 per woman, the lowest in Europe.

But well below replacement fertility rates characterize the entire continent. The UN projects, for instance, a Russian population of 115 million in 2050, an astounding 30 million people less people than inhabited Russian in 2000. (In Scotland, the number of births per year is one-half of what it was in 1950, and the number of babies born to married couples one-fifth.)

Meanwhile Muslim birthrates remain high across Europe. Native Europeans, then, can already smell the death scent of their own self-extinction. And those intimations of their own national mortality put them in a foul mood towards the Jews.

Goldman quotes the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig on the fear of impending death at the national level:

Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction. . . . Indeed the love of the peoples for their own peoplehood is sweet and pregnant with presentiment of death. . . . Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

But why should those "presentiments" be taken out on the Jews or the Jewish state? Because the Jews are the exception to the otherwise universal rule of civilizational rise and fall. As Michael Wyschograd observes, "Israel is beyond the 'laws' of history. It is not subject to the rise and fall of other peoples and empires, a fact which causes angry philosophers of history [i.e., Arnold Toynbee] whose schemes Israel undermines to refer to it as a fossil."

Only one people has shown itself immortal: the Jews. As Mark Twain observed in his famous essay "Concerning the Jews."

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

To see the Jews return to their ancient land, once more speaking their ancient tongue, and still observing their ancient law must be particularly grating to Europeans who can already foresee another people dwelling in their land, speaking a different language, and having sacked a once proud culture.

THE TWO WESTERN COUNTRIES most consistently supportive of Israel in the world today are the United States and Canada. The United States is by far the most religious of the developed countries. Two-fifths of Americans attend services weekly, and only 18% never worship. By contrast, more than half of Britons never attend church, and only one in eight does so weekly. That religiosity correlates highly with attitudes to Israel. Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by nearly five to one, while Britons view Israel negatively by a ratio of nearly four to one.

The ruling Conservative Party in Canada has its political base in the country's West, which is also the most religious section.

Birthrates and religion are closely linked, as Mary Eberstadt details in her new book How the West Really Lost God. (Contrary to popular impression, religious affiliation also correlates positively with educational levels.) In the more religiously oriented urban complexes of America, the likelihood of a woman having children, measured in terms of number of children under five to women of childbearing age, is 15-30% higher. Those who believe in a beneficent diety, Who created the world with a purpose and is bringing it towards that purpose, it would seem, want to be connected to that future through generations to come.

Those who remain optimistic about the future have less cause to envy the people of Israel their eternity. Compared to Europeans, Americans have always been an optimistic people. An old Russian adage has it, "A person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American." And it does not hurt that the most vital segment of the American and Canadian religious communities are those groups who see in Israel's existence not a cause for envy but proof, as Goldman puts it, that the "God of the Bible is a God of kept promises."

TWAIN ASKED: What is the secret of the Jews' immortality? If Jews are to be hated for their eternity, it at least behooves us to contemplate the source of our miraculous survival, which the Talmud likens to that of a solitary sheep existing among seventy wolves.

Moshe told Pharoah, in the name of God, at their first meeting, "Beni bechori Yisrael – Israel is my son, my firstborn son." The Talmud attributes those terms of endearment to the fact that Israel would in the future stand on Sinai and utter the words "na'aseh ve'nishmah – We will do, and [then] we will understand." The Children of Israel were taken out of Egypt on account of their future acceptance of the Torah, and they are protected to this day by virtue of their connection to the Torah.

In that light we can understand our Sages' comment that Sinai is from the language of sina (hatred). Sinai is the source of our immortality, and that immortality causes the hatred of us.

"Na'aseh ve'nishmah denotes not just the acceptance of Torah, but a particular form of acceptance – an acceptance oblivious to all the rational calculations of the world. The Talmud relates that a Sadduccee once saw Rava learning Torah with such intensity that he did not even notice that he was sitting on his hands, which were dripping blood. The Sadducee charged Rava with being the member of an am pezizah – a heedless, uncalculating people – just like his ancestors who accepted G-d's commandments without first knowing what they were.

Rava acknowledged the charge, for in that reckless passion for Torah lies the secret of Jewish eternity. No Jewish community that has cut itself of from Torah observance and study has ever survived for long.

Passion for Torah learning is not a birthright. It is not an automatic consequence of being born into a chareidi home or of attending yeshiva. But I think most would concede that the chareidi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.

Can there be a greater national service – guaranteeing our national survival -- than that performed by those who attain that level?

Read other articles by Jonathan Rosenblum at Jewish Media Resources

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